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108th Regt History

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Transcribed by Connie Williams

The Eleventh Cavalry,* originally known as "Harlan's Light Cavalry," was raised as an independant regiment, during the months of August and September, 1861, by Colonel Josiah Harlan, of Philadelphia, under special authority from the Secretary of War. Under this authority companies were raised in different States, Company A being from Iowa, portions of E and F from New York, a part of I from New Jersey, M from Ohio, and the remainder from Pennsylvania. The organization of the regiment was a completed on the 5th of October, by the choice of the following field officers: Josiah Harlan, Colonel; Samuel P. Spear, Lieutenant Colonel; George Stetzel, Samuel Weatherill, and Noah M. Runyan, Majors. Its strength consisted of forty-one officers and one thousand and eighty-nine enlisted men. The regiment was assigned to Brigadier General Innis N. Palmer's Brigade, and marched on the 16th of October from Camp Harlan, on Seventh Street, Washington, D. C., to Camp Palmer, near Ball's Cross Roads, Virginia, where it went into camp for instruction and drill.

It having been ascertained at this time that Congress had only authorized the raising of regiments by States, and that consequently the formation of Harlan's Light Cavalry as an independant regiment was irregular, it was attached to the Pennsylvania State organizations on the 13th of November, and received the official designation it ever after retained.

Considerable progress was made in foot and mounted drill at Camp Palmer, notwithstanding unfavorable weather and location. On the 17th of November the regiment broke camp and marched for Annapolis, from which point it procecded, by transports, to Camp Hamiltion, near Fortress Monroe. Here stables and quarters were built, and during a period of six months a thorough course of instruction and drill was followed, and some experience acquired in scouting and picket duty.

In March, 1862, companies C and M, under Major Runyan, were detached and ordered to Newport News, . On the 15th of May, companies A, E, G, H, and L, under Lieutenant Colonel Spear, were detached and sent to Portsmouth, Virginia, and a few weeks after to Suffolk, being re-placed at Portsmouth by Company M, Captain Reynolds, from Newport News, The remaining five companies of the regiment, under Colonel Harlan, were ordered to join the Army of the Potomac, at White House, in the beginning of June, and remained in that vicinity until the evacuation of the place, towards the end of the month, when they removed to Williamsburg. In August the command was stationed for a few days at Burnt Ordinary, and was then ordered to Suffolk, at which place it re-joined the other five companies on the 20th. The service of these five companies while on the Peninsula consisted of picket and scouting duty in rear of M'Clellan's army. Colonel Harlan commanded until the 15th of July, and Major Stetzel from that time until a few days prior to the departure of the command for Suffolk, when Lieutenant Colonel Spear assumed command of the regiment. The five companies at Suffolk, at first under command of Lieutenant Colonel Spear, and afterward of Major Wetherill, were meantime on active duty. Companies A and E, under Captain Stratton, were engaged in scouting and the topographical survey of the country towards the Blackwater, under the immediated direction of General Mansfield, then in command at Suffolk. The other companies were principally employed in picket duty.

Colonel Harlan having been mustered out of service on the 19th of August, Lieutenant Colonel Spear was commissioned Colonel, Major Stetzel, Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Frank A. Stratton, Major. The regiment remained here nearly a year, engaged in picket, scouting, and patrol duty. Almost daily reconnoissances were made to the Blackwater by company, squadron, or battalian, and frequent skirmishes and engagements with the enemy took place. On the 2d of December a battalion, under Major Stratton, made a sabre charge at Beaver Dam Church against a superior force of the enemy's cavalry, completely routing it, capturing twenty-five prisoners and section of the celebrated rocket battery, taken from M'Clellan on the Peninsula. The regiment was armed at this time with sabres and revolvers, and eight or ten Sharp's carbines to each company. During this and the many subsequent victories of the regiment until near the close of the campaign of 1864, the sabre was the principal weapon employed, and was always succesful against an equal force of cavalry. Its constant and effective use inspired the officers and men with confidence and bravery, and a sabre charge by an advance guard of the Eleventh never failed promptly to clear the roads of the enemy's pickets or advance.

On the 30th of January, 1863, the regiment took a prominent part in the defeat of the rebel General Pryor, at Deserted House, during which several successful charges were made. An attack was made on the enemy's works at Franklin on the 17th of March, in which two battalions, under Majors Stratton and Cornog, attempted to carry the works by a mounted charge. In one of these charges, Lieutenant Mowday fell. Company M, having been relieved at Norfolk by Company F, re-joined the regiment about the 20th of March. During the seige of Suffolk by Longstreet, from April 11 to May 3, the regiment was actively employed. Companies B, L, and M, and two companies of another regiment, under Major Stratton, were stationed at South Mills, on the Dismal Swamp Canal, thirty miles below Norfolk, as an out-post, guarding the approach from that direction. The remaining companies at Suffolk were Prominent in the operations before that place, and captured many prisoners during the pursuit which followed the raising of the siege. In the early part of May the regiment was employed, with other forces, in taking up the railroad track from Suffolk to Franklin, during which operation several skirmishes occurred, resulting in the defeat of the enemy. During the year's service at Suffolk it constantly scouted over the whole country on the left bank of the Blackwater and Chowan rivers, from the James River to Albemarie Sound, in North Carolina, keeping the country clear of the enemy, capturing many prisoners and considerable property. It is estimated that each company marched an average of three hundred miles per month during this period. Stables and quarters had been built early in the fall, and the horses, protected when not on duty, from the inclemency of the weather, were in fine condition. Meeting with no disaster, the regiment arrived at a high state of discipline, and became very effective in men and material.

The three companies at South Mills re-joined the regiment on the 4th of June. On the 21st, it marched to Portsmouth, and there embarked for White House. Company F, Captain Mitchell, having been relieved at Norfolk, re-joined the regiment at Portsmouth. Arriving at White House, a rapid march brought the command, on the 26th, to Virginia Central Railroad Bridge, over the South Anna River, near Hanover Court House. The enemy's works were immediately attacked, delivering a mounted and dismounted charge, and carried with little loss, resulting in the capture of one hundred and twenty-five prisoners. During the expedition Brigadier General W. F. II. Lee was captured, and also a large number of mules, wagons, and other peoperty. After the destruction of the bridge, the regiment returned to White House. An expedition, under Brigadier General Getty, consisting of seven thousand infantry and artillery, with the Eleventh Pennsylvania, started from White House on the 1st of July, to destroy the bridge on the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, and thus complete the severance of railroad communication between Richmond and Lee's army, then near Gettysburg. The expedition failed in its main object, but on the night of the 4th of July companies G, and M, under Major Stratton, destroyed the railroad bridge, station, and public property at Ashland. The regiment returned to White House on the 7th, and a few days afterwards marched to Hampton, thence proceeded, by transport, to Portsmouth, and on the 13th went into camp at Bower's Hill, seven miles out on the Suffolk Road.

On the 16th, Colonel Spear having been placed in command of the brigade, the command of the regiment devolved upon Major Weatherill. He was succeeded on the 22d of August, by Lieutenant Colnel Stetzel, who retained command until July of the following year. From the 25th of July to the 2d of August, the regiment in connection with the First New York Mounted Rifles, made a raid into North Carolina, by the way of Winston, for the purpose of destroying the railroad bridge at Weldon. Finding the enemy strongly posted in superior force at Jackson, an attack was made, but failing to dislodge him, the command retired after a short engagment. Forty prisoners and one hundred horses were captured. Soon after the return from this expedition the regiment went into camp, at Camp Getty, three miles from Portsmouth, constructed huts and stables, and resumed drill, which had been nearly suspended for eighteen months. In October the regiment went on an expedition, by water, to Mathews county, Virginia, for the purpose of wuppressing contraband trade, and returned at the end of eight days. Several expeditions, by the entire command and by battalions, were made in the fall and early winter, to the Blackwater and the north-eastern part of North Carolina, but without important results, except clearing the of guerrillas and destroying contraband traffic.

The order from the War Department, authorizing men to re-enlist, was published in October, and during that and the five following months, four hundred veterans enrolled themselves for three years' additional service. On the 23d of January, 1864, the regiment left Portsmouth for Williamsburg, at which place it remained until the 8th of April, when it returned to Portsmouth. Early in February Brigadier General Wister's expedition, for the surprise and capture of Richmond, was made. The Eleventh formed part of the forces, it having been sent to Williamsburg with that object in view, although ostensibly for the purpose of enrolling the inhabitants of the country. The expedition procceded no further than Bottom's Bridge, information of the movement having been conveyed to the enemy by a deserter. Several other expeditions were made by the regiment while it was stationed at Williamsburg, but no important results were accomplished. Company G, Captain Skelly, was detached in February for duty on the eastern shore of Virginia.

After returning to Portsmouth active preperations were made for the spring campaign. Brigadier General August V. Kautz took command of the cavalry division, composed of the Eleventh and Fifth Pennsylvania, First District of Columbia, and Thrid New York. As long raids into the heart of the enemy's country were comtemplated, everything possible was done to make the out-fit complete, and reduce the transportation to the smallest limit. The strength of the divison was nearly three thousand effective men. Commencing its march on the 5th of May, the divison reached the Weldon Railroad, in the vicinity of the Nottoway River, on the 7th, and on the following day a part of it destroyed the Stony Creek Bridge, while the Eleventh, assisted by the First Dristrict of Columbia Cavalry, charged and drove back a regiment of rebel infantry guarding the railroad bridge over the Nottoway, burned the bridge, and on the same day defeated the enemy at Jarrett's Station; thence the command procceded direct to City Point, where it arrived on the 10th, having marched three hundred miles in six days. The loss of the regiment during the raid was one man killed, and Lieutenant Purdhomme and ten men wounded.

On the 11th, companies B and H, under Captain Roberts, were detached for service, at the headquarters of the Eighteenth Corps. Without waiting to rest, the divison crossed to Bermuda Hundred on the 11th, and moved out for another expedition the next day, the rebel lines having been broken for the purpose, by our infantry columns. The Danville Railroad was struck the same night, at Coalfield, twelve miles from Richmond, and was folowed as far as the Nottoway. At Flat Creek Bridge a short engagement took place on the 14th, in which Lieutenant Shriver was killed. The enemy being too strongly posted to be dislodged without heavy loss, the command retired from that point and struck across to South Side Railroad, and thence, by a circuitous route via Lawrence, Jarrett's Station, and Sussex Court House, to City Point, arriving on the 17th. During this expedition the command destroyed a large amount of track on the Danville, South Side, and Weldon railroads, and a large quantity of rebel goverment property, including station buildings, locomotives, and cars, and warehouses filled with stores. Its losses were one officer and five men killed, and eight men wounded.

The divison encamped near Bermuda Hundred until May 28th, when it was placed on dismounted duty in the line of works in front of that place. On the 9th of June, after a rapid march to the rear of Petersburg, on the Jerusalem Plank Road, the division made an attack, carried the works, capturing one gun and fifty prisoners, and entered the edge of the town. General Gilmore, with a large force of infantry and artillery, having been ordered to make a feint on the main works, four miles to the right, failed to do so with sufficient energy to hold the enemy, who moved heavy reinforcements to oppose the attack of the cavalry, which was withdrawn, without accomplishing the main object of the expedition-the destruction of the railroad bridge over the Appomattox. In these operations the Eleventh bore a conspicous part and suffered considerable loss. On the 16th, the regiment took part, on the left, in the attack which resulted in the capture of the main line of works around Petersburg. Company B, having been relieved from duty with the Eighteenth Corps, re-joined the regiment on the 20th.

From the 21st to the 30th of June the regiment was engaged in the raid of Kautz's and Wilson's divisons, having for its object the destruction of the Danville Railroad. The command, nearly ten thousand strong, moved out from the rear of the Petersburg lines to the South Side Railroad, and along the line of that road to Burkesville Junction. From that point the column turned south-westerly, along the Danville Road, as far as the Staunton River. At the bridge over that stream Kautx's Divison, on the 25th, made a strong demonstration against the enemy, who was well posted on the right bank. In this attack the regiment lost one of its best officers, Captain Reynolds, who fell in the beginning of the engagement. Major Ackerly was severely wounded. Owing to the natural strength of the position no general attack was made, and the command commenced its return march during the night. Thus far all had been success. Several stations and considerable track and other property had been destroyed on the South Side Railroad, while for a distance of thirty miles on the Danville Road the destruction was complete, scarcely a vestige of a railroad being left, excepting the earth-works. No more effective operation of the kind was accomplished by cavalry during the war. In returning, a strong force of the enemy's infantry and avalry was encountered at Stoney Creek on the night of the 28th, and at Ream Station on the 29th, and heavy engagements took place in which both divisons suffered severly. The battle on the 29th lasted from early in the morning until two o'clock in the afternoon, when the command was obliged to retreat by a circuitous route, abandoning most of its artillery and material. In a charge of the Eleventh on the last day, many brave and gallant officers and men fell. The loss of the regiment in this raid was one hundred and thirty in killed, wounded, and missing. Among the killed were Captains Bailey, Loomis, and Reynolds, and Lieutenant Tears, and Captain Roberts mortally and Major Ackerly severely wounded. Surgeon Harlan was captured, and Lieutenant Barclay wounded and captured. For rapidity of march and endurance of the men, this raid has not been excelled, nearly five hundred miles having been marched in ten days, including the time engaged in fighting.

The regiment was in camp at Jones' Neck, on the James River, during July, engaged in re-fitting. On the 14th, Company L was detached to relieve Company G, on the eastern shore of Virginia, the latter company re-joining the regiment soon after. Lieutenant Colonel Stetzel was assigned to the command of the dismounted camp of the division on the 16th, and Major Stratton assumed command of the regiment, which be retained, with the exception of a short interval, until it was mustered out of service. The division was attached to General Sheridan's forces, and constituted a part of the fifteen thousand cavalry with which he successfully engaged the enemy on the 29th.

On the 31st, the regiment moved across the appomattox and was placed on picket duty at Lee's Mills on the extreme left of the army, and on the 3d of August at Mount Sinai Church. From the 18th to the 25th it was engaged in all those important and hard fought actions by means of which the Weldon Railroad was finally occupied and held by our forces. Skirmishes were had on the 19th, and in the attack by the enemy on the 21st the regiment held the left of the line. On the evening of the 21st and on the 22d it was engaged in heavy skirmishing, and on the 23d a considerable engagement ensued near Ream's Station, in each of which operations the regiment suffered some loss. The next day considerable skirmishing again occurred, and on the 25th it was engaged all day, on the extreme left, in the sanguinary action at Ream's Station, in which our forces, under Hancock, although driven out of the works towards the close of the day, ultimately held their ground. Lieutenant Neilson was among the killed. After this the regiment returned to Mount Sinai Church, and remained on duty in that vicinity, picketing the rear lines of the army until the 28th of September, when it returned to Jones' Neck. Company H, having been relieved from duty with the Eighteenth Corps, re-joined the regiment on that day.

On the 29th, Merrill's carbines, with shich the regiment had been armed, and a number of Sharp's, Burnside's, and Starr's, which had been subsequently given it, were exchanged for new Spencer repeating carbines, and at daylight of that day it started on an important expedition across the James. The enemy's left was turned and an attempt made on the night of the 29th to surprise and enter Richmond from the north, while the infantry made the attack on the Fort Harrison side. The fort was taken but the night attack of the cavalry failed, owing to the troops losing their way in the darkness. The loss in this expedition was small. During the seven days following, the cavalry was constatly employed in skirmishing with the enemy, and several considerable engagements took place. The division, at this time reduced to one thousand effective men, was pushed out on the extreme right flank of the army, three miles from the infantry support. On the morning of the 7th of October the position was turned and eveloped by a force of the enemy from five to seven thousand strong, and after a contest of several hours the command was driven back with the loss of its artillery. In this engagement the regiment suffered considerably in killed and wounded, and a number were taken prisoners. Major Titus and Lieutenant Barber were wounded and cptured, and Captain Bacon and Lieutenant Beers captured. Lieutenant Colnel Stratton having been slightly wounded in the 7th, the command of the regiment devolved on Major Skelly, who held it until the 22d of November, when the former officer again assumed command. During the remainder of October the regiment was engaged in picket duty on the extreme right of the army, and had several skirmishes with the enemy, in one of which Lieutenant Banks was severly wounded. It also took active part in the engagement of the 13th and 27th, during General Butler's attempt to turn the enemy's left, but did not sustain much loss.

In November the regiment went into camp in rear of the lines, two miles north of the James, where it remained during the winter, re-organizing, re-fitting, and drilling. During the fall about four hundred of the officers and men had been mustered out upon the expiration of their term of service, and the regiment re-organized by the appointment of officers and non-commissioned officers, and the addition of recruits.

On the 10th of December, a demonstration was made against the right of our line by a heavy force, and a considerable engagement took place, the enemy retiring at night-fall. The Eleventh held the right of the line at New Market Heights during the attack, and substained a loss of several men killed and wounded;among the latter, Captain Tripp. In February, 1865, under Lieutenant Colonel Stratton, it made an expedition into Surrey and Isle of Wight counties, for the purpose of intercepting a rebel force expected there, but no enemy appearing it returned after five days hard marching.

Towards the close of March, General Kautz was relieved of the command of the cavalry division by Brigadier General Ronald S. Mackenzie. On the evening of the 28th the division broke camp, crossed the James and Appomattox rivers, and by night of the second day following, had reached the left of the army at Ream's Station, thence to follow the fortunes and share the victories of Sheridan's command during the short but brilliant campaign, culminating in the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court House.

At the battle of Five Forks, on the 1st of April, the regiment had the advance of the division, which was ordered to attack on the extreme right of Sheridan's forces. Soon after passing Dinwiddie Court House, the enemy's infantry was found, strongly posted in the edge of a wood along the White Oak Road, about two miles to the right of Five Forks. A mounted and dismounted charge was immediately made by the Eleventh, and the enemy driven from his position in confusion. The triumph was not achieved without heavy loss. Major Monroe and Captain Lancaster were killed, Lieutenant Matthews mortally wounded, Lieutenant Wolfe captured, and several men killed and wounded. The division, following up this flank attack, closed in to the left, and moving on the right of the Fifth Corps, swept round with it to the enemy's rear, in the final movement of the day, which resulted in the capture of ten thousand prisoners. The Eleventh bore its full share of this movement and captured many of the enemy.

During the next three days the cavalry followed in vigorous pursuit, and frequent engagements occurred. On the 4th of April, the Eleventh Regiment being in advance, it attacked the enemy's rear guard, strongly posted at Deep Creek, and after an hour's engagment, assisted by a small portion of the division, gained the position. Towards night the cavalry outposts of Lee were found two miles from Amelia Court House, at which place his main army was halted. A charge was immediately made, and the rebel cavalry driven back upon the support of the main force. The position thus gained was held during the night. The following day a considerable engagement was had with a large force of the enemy on the railroad below Amelia Court House, but with no decisive results. The object and effect of these attacks were to delay the enemy, while other troops were making forced marches to intercept his retreat. In each of these affairs the regiment suffered a small loss. On the 6th, the division moved to Burkesville, and the next day to Prince Edward's Court House, where a nember of Prisoners were captured. By this movement the command passed from the extreme right to extreme left of Sheridan's army. The division, having become much reduced in numbers, was on the 7th, reorganized as a brigade, Brigadier General Mackenzie retaining command. On the 8th, the march was pushed to Appomattox Station, two miles from the Court House.

On the morning of the 9th, Mackenzie's Brigade, with orders to engage the enemy and develop his position, moved forward to the Lynchburg Turnpike, about one mile west of Appomattox Court House, near which Lee's Army lay. This movement placed the brigade directly across Lee's line of escape. Two divisions of the Twenty-fourth Corps, following the same route, were but two hours' march behind, and other troops were rapidly coming up. Lieutenant Colonel Stratton having been ordered forward with his regiment, the Eleventh had the honor of opening the attack in the final battle. The remainder of the brigade came in on the right. The enemy supposing that he had only cavalry to oppose him, determined to force his way through in the direction of Lynchburg, and for that purpose moved forward heavy lines of infantry to meet the attack, sending a large force of calvary from his right to gain the rear of the attack, sending a large force of calvary from his right to gain the rear of the attacking force. Soon after the brigade became well engaged, and was beginning to be pressed by the strong flanking forces of the enemy, orders were received for the calvary to fall back slowly to meet the supporting lines of the Twenty-fourth Corps. The command was, therefore, gradually withdrawn westerly along the main road. The enemy anticipating an easy victory over the retiring force, advanced confidently, although once repelled by the calvary now strengthened by Devies' Brigade. This movement to the rear had continued but a few hundred yards, when Foster's Division of the Twenty-fourth Corps emerged from the woods in the rear in solid line of battle, and moving rapidly forward, swept back the enemy nearly a mile to the slope of the hill overloking the rebel main position, and there halted. Other bodies of troops came up rapidly into line, forty pieces of artillery were placed in position, and the cavalry was thrown out well on the left. In the valley below, only half a mile distant, lay the shattered and demoralized remnant of the main army of the rebellion--infantry, cavalry, artillary, and trains, crowded together in confusion, surrounded on all sides, command by the guns, and completely at the mercy of the victorious army of the Union. While in this position hostilities were suspended, the terms agreed upon, and the surrender took place.

The next day a squadron of the Eleventh, under Captain Elliot, found and took possession of fifty-four pieces of feild artillery, with carriages and caissons, which the rebels had buried at Red Oak Church, but had not included with the property surrendered. On the 12th the brigade marched to Lynchburg, which had been evacuated by the enemy. The Eleventh took possession of the place, and a large amount of ordinance and other rebel property, including fifty-six field pieces, forty-one mortars, and six heavy guns. Leaving Lynchburg on the 10th, it marched via Burkesville, to Richmond, where it arrived on the 24th.

In this short campaign the regiment took a conspicuous part. An immense amount of rebel property fell into its possession. Including that at Red Oak Church and Lynchburg, it captured, took possession of, and delivered to the proper officers, one hundred and ten field piecesm forty-one mortars, six heavy guns, one hundred and twenty carriages and caissons, seven forges, and a large quantity of ammunition and other stores. Its losses were three officers killed, one captured-but re-captured on the 9th-and twenty-five enlisted men killed and wounded.

On the 6th of May it left Richmond on an expedition to Staunton, Virginia, where it arrived on the 11th. Returning as far as Charlottesville, it halted there on the 16th. Colonel Stratton was placed in command of the sub-district of Albemarie, and several of the companies were detached for duty in the adjancent towns and counties, the remainder being stationed at Charlottesville.

Toward the close of July the regiment was ordered to Richmond to be mustered out of service. It arrived on the 3d of August and went into camp near Manchester, and on the 13th was mustered out. At fortress Monroe, Company L re-joined the regiment, having arrived there from the Eastern shore of Virginia. On the 17th it reached Philadelphia, and moving to Camp Cadwallader, was disbanded and paid.


     *The record of the Eleventh Cavalry here given has been drawn principally from historical memoranda, prepared by an officer of the regiment, and published by J. B. Lippincott & Co., of Philadelphia.


Source: Bates, Samuel P., History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5 (Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer. 1871)

Last Updated: 23 Apr 2008
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